Craig Button says “Russian Factor” only an issue “if you want to be blind, dumb and stupid”


Two of the top prospects in the upcoming 2012 NHL Entry Draft are Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko.

They were both born in Russia, but they decided to leave their homeland before they were even drafted so that they could play in the Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League respectively.

All the same, teams still seem to feel obligated to ask them if they plan to, at some point, leave North America and sign with a KHL club.

“All the teams asked me about this,” Grigorenko told NHL.com. “I understand why they’re concerned about this, but I told them I will not go there (to the KHL) for sure.”

Does the fact that he’s even being ask suggest that the “Russian Factor” still exist?

“Only if you want to be blind, dumb and stupid,” Craig Button said. “It would be one thing if you had this enormous talent pool (from Russia), but there’s not an enormous talent pool.”

The Edmonton Oilers might end up taking Nail Yakupov with the first overall pick, and if their head amateur scout, Stu MacGregor, is any indication, Yakupov’s origins won’t be a factor.

“The Russian Factor is nothing,” MacGregor said. “If a player is a good player, he’s a good player. Players are in the Czech league that remain in the Czech league, so you have to ask that question of anyone [in their draft year]. There are also times when players here in North American will wind up in the KHL. I think this whole Russian Factor is not a factor at all.”

For his part, Yakupov wants to play in the NHL and he doesn’t “know why you guys talk about (a) Russian Factor.”

After years of hype, McDavid to play first NHL game

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The hype surrounding Connor McDavid couldn’t be much greater, but finally expectations will start to give way to results.

The NHL career that’s been talked about for years will begin tonight when his Edmonton Oilers face St. Louis.

“It’s something that you dream of for so long,” McDavid told NHL.com. “The draft is one thing, but to finally be in this situation is another, so I’m really excited. It’s been a long road; it’s been a lot of hard work. I think a lot of guys’ stories are different in how they get here, but the one common theme is hard work and my story is not any different that way.”

McDavid has transformed the Oilers with his mere presence. Its breathed fresh optimism into a city that have watched this team struggle in its efforts to dig out of the NHL basement. One also has to wonder if Peter Chiarelli would be the team’s new general manager and Todd McLellan its new head coach if Edmonton hadn’t won the draft lottery.

But where will he lead Edmonton? Will he be just the sixth 70-point rookie of the salary cap era? Will he struggle out of the gate, putting the hype into question? Perhaps he’ll draw comparisons to Steven Stamkos, who had a modest rookie campaign by the standards of a highly regarded top pick, but has nevertheless gone on to become a superstar.

That would surprise Stamkos as the Lightning captain feels McDavid is better than he is currently. Just further proof that those lofty expectations are coming from all sides.

“You don’t want to put too much weight on his shoulders; he’s an 18-year-old kid,” Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said. “I don’t care how good he is or how good he’ll be, it’s a lot to shoulder if you’re supposed to be the guy and you’re the only guy. Fortunately we have a lot of high-pedigree players that are high picks who have gone through similar situations that he’s going through.”

Edmonton certainly has no shortage of first overall picks, but none as highly regarded as McDavid. But then, few ever are.

Related: There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

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Jack Eichel didn’t disappoint in the preseason, finishing with six points in four games, including two shorthanded goals.

Tonight in Buffalo, his NHL career will start for real when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators in regular-season action.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, stepping foot on that ice and making the NHL,” Eichel said, per NHL.com. “It’s kind of been a whirlwind, but you’re finally playing hockey for a living and everything you’ve done your whole life is to get to this point. It’s pretty special.”

The 18-year-old’s debut was front-page news this morning in Buffalo, where the Sabres have been among the NHL’s worst teams since last making the playoffs in 2010-11.

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Granted, even with the additions of Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Robin Lehner and Cody Franson, expectations for 2015-16 remain modest for the new-look Sabres. Certainly, a spot in the playoffs would count as a surprise.

But for the fans of a team that’s barely possessed the puck the past couple of years, it’s night and day.

“People are excited,” GM Tim Murray said earlier this week. “It’s great. They think we’ve improved, and there’s a real positive vibe, I believe.

“That’s what I said to our coaches, ‘I want everybody to be positive. I’m the only guy in the organization allowed to be negative.’ That’s the way I wanted it. If I’m the most negative guy in the city about the team, that’s pretty good.”